Pros and Cons of virtual meetings

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Pros and Cons of Virtual Meetings Practically Perfect PA

Long gone are the days our executive managers fly all over the world attending an hour’s meeting here or there. Don’t get me wrong they still travel for Board meetings and client engagement but they don’t get on a flight simply  because there are no alternatives to getting everyone together. With the introduction of virtual meetings and teleconferencing people can communicate with each other in different time zones and locations very easily and a great deal cheaper than the cost of a flight.

I really try to encourage the people I work with to try all of the various types of software that are available for holding a virtual meeting, not only because it is better for the environment and saves money but also because it saves me time organising flights and hotels for them! Occasionally your manager will have to attend a meeting in person and there really isn’t any getting out of it but it is always worth mentioning to them new technology that will be beneficial for not only meetings but also keeping in touch with overseas staff and clients.

Here are my recommendations for virtual communication software and also the pros and cons associated with the technology:

Teleconferencing

This is a telephone call between 2 or more people using an interface that allows everyone to dial into the same call and hear each other during the meeting.

Pros:

  • Multiple locations across all time zones
  • Easy to use
  • Once the initial cost of equipment has been paid teleconferencing is inexpensive
  • Meetings can take place in individuals offices or at their desk which saves time booking meeting rooms or having to go externally if you lack meeting room space
  • Meetings can be more flexible as participants can log in and out of the call without disturbing over attendees

Cons:

  • This is not face to face and it may be difficult for people to grasp the meaning behind the conversation if you cannot see the individual talking
  • Depending on the telephone equipment you have it can be hard to hear what everyone is saying especially if the majority are in a large boardroom and the phone is not in the middle of the desk. Additional microphones may be needed at an extra cost to the company.
  • Teleconferencing is not a great system to use if the meeting participants are expected to brainstorm or ask lots of questions as they cannot see each other and therefore it is harder to work together or think of creative solutions to problems. It is also not ideal for sales pitches or negotiations.
  • Controlling who is speaking, interruptions and speaking over each other is a common problem with a large number of people on a teleconference. Unless you have a strong chairperson that will mute certain speakers it may be unwise to use teleconferencing for large numbers.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing is similar to teleconferencing expect that cameras are used so that people can see each other as well as hear each other.

Pros:

  • Multiple locations across all time zones
  • You can see people as well as hear them which means it is easier to communicate both verbally and through body language.
  • All participants can view presentations and the material such as slide shows and graphics
  • It is easier to work in groups via video conferencing and brainstorming in particular is easier to manage

Cons:

  • Everyone attending the meeting must have video conferencing equipment at their desk or be situated in a conference room where it is available
  • A reliable and fast link must be in place to allow for good quality sound and visuals. This is an additional cost to the equipment itself which is also expensive.
  • Depending on the time zone staff will have to remain in the office to participate in the call or arrive early
  • The quality of the camera and how far it can be angled may mean that participants are not be able to see everybody and / or the presentation material

WebEx

WebEx is manufactured by Cisco Systems and allows participants to meet over the internet, while sharing the information on their screen and talking over a phone line. The system works on both computers, macs and smartphones. There are alternative packages such as GotoMeeting.com but I have always used WebEx.

Pros:

  • Multiple locations across all time zones
    The system is easy to you and there are lots of features to the system such as automatic invitations to meeting, a unique conference call number, security passwords for the meeting and material
  • Users can share their desk top with other participants so that work can be completed together on documents and everyone can have a clear view of presentation material
  • The view of the desk top can be easily switch between users so the meeting can have more than one speaker
  • Video can be used if you have a webcam in place

Cons:

  • The default browser is Internet Explorer so your company will have to let you download this if you use another product
  • It can be expensive if you host lots of WebEx meetings
  • With any internet product you are relying on another company to host the meeting and if there is an error with the system there isn’t much you can do
  • It can occasionally take a while to load and glitches with the software can be quite common

Skype

Skype is a free and low-cost options for virtual meetings around the world. The system allows people to chat via text, voice and video. The only requirement is a device that can run the Skype application and at least one person in the room must register with Skype.

Pros:

  • Multiple locations across all time zones
  • It’s free for person to person calls or group chat
  • It can be used across all platforms and also on smartphones and tablets
  • Due to the low costs it is a great option for small businesses
  • The quality can be very good when working correctly

Cons:

  • A super-fast broadband connection is required otherwise the picture and sound quality can be pretty bad. Not great if you are holding formal meetings
  • For multiple participants Skype will charge a fee, although not very expensive it does mean that most conferencing calling will have to be paid for
  • Skype is not run on a private network so security could be an issue particularly if the participants are discussing confidential matters
  • Again there are reliability issues because the service is provided over the internet by a third party. Skype has been known to crash so if you have an important meeting it is advisable to use another service.

Are there any services you use for virtual meetings and conferencing? Does your company still send executives to meetings around the world or have you seen a decrease in travel due to new technology?

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